5 Classic Cars You Can Still Afford – For Now
Flip on the TV and you would be forgiven for thinking that the world of classic cars has locked out anyone unwilling to drop six figures on American muscle. Auction coverage and reality shows that worship at the foot of 100-point, big-dollar restorations and hot rod builds can paint a depressing picture of how expensive it truly is to get behind the wheel of your childhood dream car.
Fortunately, the mass media is only giving you a small slice of what the collector car hobby is all about. For every trailer queen rolling onto the lawn at Pebble Beach, there are dozens of more affordable classics out there waiting to be discovered, loved, driven, and cherished. Let’s take a look at 5 classic cars you can still afford – for now – before the Barrett-Jackson crowd discovers them, too.
1972 – 1978 Datsun Z
Mystifying as it might be, very few people are seriously collecting classic Japanese cars. While you might see the occasional Toyota 2000GT or Nissan Skyline cross the auction block for record money, more common yet beautifully-designed fare like the Datsun 240Z / 260Z / 280Z remains remarkably affordable.
In fact, aside from early 1970 – 1971 240Z models which were imported to the U.S. in very small numbers, there’s very little premium to be paid when seeking one of the best sports cars of the 1970s. Lightweight, mechanically simply, and gorgeously-designed, the first-generation Datsun Z cars offer respectable power from an inline six-cylinder engine coupled with excellent parts availability for anyone looking to do a restoration or repair.
From 72-73 the 240Z featured a 2.4-liter mill, while 1974 saw the brief introduction of the 2.6-liter 260Z, which was immediately followed by the 2.8-liter 280Z until the end of production after the 1978 model year. In addition to these engine differences, later cars received a few more luxury features, the availability of the 2+2 body style, an optional five-speed manual transmission (with earlier cars split between a four-speed manual and a three-speed automatic), and for ’78, fuel injection. Look to pay between $5,000 for a driver and $15,000 for a well-kept Datsun Z.
1971 – 1991 Jeep Wagoneer
The Jeep Wagoneer (renamed the Grand Wagoneer in the mid-80s) was one of the longest-running SUVs ever built. We’re focusing on the generations that fell underneath the AMC and Chrysler banners, as they are the easiest to find and the most pleasant to drive in a modern context.
Although famous for the wood panel trim that was ubiquitous on later models, the SJ version of the Wagoneer went through a number of front end redesigns and body style changes after AMC picked up the slack from Willys at the beginning of the 70s. The company also granted the Grand Wagoneer its most common engine: a 360 cubic inch V8 that would remain available until the very end of production, offering modest, but useful horsepower and torque. Formidable off-road capabilities often took a back seat to the Jeep’s comfortable ride and long list of available features amongst buyers, splitting the examples still available on the market between stripped-down traildusters and well-kept daily drivers.
Jeep Grand Wagoneer prices can swing wildly depending on where you look, as there is more than one shop out there restoring these classic SUVs and offering them in as-new condition. For four-wheel drive fans on a budget, however, beautiful 80s-era Grand Wagoneers are available around the $15,000 mark, with projects starting at just a third of that amount.
1964.5 – 1966 Ford Mustang
Given its iconic reputation for performance, many classic car shoppers immediately assume that 60’s era Ford Mustangs are priced out of the reach of the average buyer. Fortunately, because so many of these early pony cars were built, this isn’t the case. The first two years of production, especially, are the easiest to find at a very reasonable ask, as long as you avoid the fastback body style and anything featuring a rare combination of options.
Although models offering the inline six-cylinder motor are usually a little less expensive, the common 289 cubic inch V8 doesn’t command too much more on the open market, with prices for well sorted coupes hovering between $15,000 and $20,000. Convertibles are available for similar money, and if you’re willing to overlook some cosmetic details, you can snag either a decent hard top or rag top for between $10,000 and $15,000.
1967 – 1972 Chevrolet C10
Trucks are starting to heat up as collectors frozen out of the muscle market beginning to turn towards these rear-wheel drive, V8-powered machines. The 1967 to 1972 model years of the Chevrolet C10 represent the turning point where General Motors made a serious effort to improve the drivability of what had once been rough-riding, task-focused trucks. Suspension upgrades, cabin features, and more powerful engines lead the way for the C10, which was also available with a variety of bed lengths, styles, and of course the option of four-wheel drive.
More interested in the look than performance? Target the six-cylinder editions of the Chevrolet C10, which are typically the most affordable. Even V8 models, however, can be had for under $10,000 in driver condition, with nicely-restored exampled crossing the $15,000 threshold. Once again, the huge number of trucks sold helps to keep prices down, although it’s not always easy to locate a pickup that hasn’t been put through its paces as a workhorse for at least part of its life.
1962 – 1980 MG MGB
The MG MGB was the most popular roadster of all time, until it was surpassed in sales by the Mazda Miata in the 1990s. Owning a vintage British car comes with its fair share of maintenance peculiarities, but even today the MGB is an inexpensive and fun sports car to own and drive, with a huge aftermarket willing to serve the needs of enthusiasts.
With almost three decades of production to choose from, there are obviously a variety of different styling, drivetrain, and features offered from one model year to the next. The most visible changes to the MGB include chrome bumpers versus rubber and plastic designs (introduced due to U.S. regulations in the mid-70s), as well as the varying levels of smog equipment added to the vehicle’s four-cylinder engine during the same decade. Later vehicles are typically less expensive, but outside a rare early car a very well-sorted MGB shouldn’t run you more than $20,000 (with many quality drivers offered around the $10,000 mark).
Datsun 280Z – Benjamin Hunting
Jeep Grand Wagoneer: CZmarlin — Christopher Ziemnowicz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Ford Mustang: Jeremy from Sydney, Australia (1965 Ford Mustang) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Chevrolet C10: By dave_7 from Lethbridge, Canada (1970 Chevrolet C10) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
MG MGB: By IFCAR (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons